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Taubman College and MASS Design Group Partner to Focus on Mass Incarceration

Monday, February 18, 2019

Image: National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, Alabama. MASS Design Group, 2016.

The MASS Design Group partnership will prepare Taubman College students for mission-driven practice leadership

University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning has partnered with MASS Design Group, a nonprofit firm based in Boston and Kigali, Rwanda, to provide academic instruction and internship opportunities that will prepare Taubman College students for mission-driven practice leadership. MASS is teaching a Winter Semester Master of Architecture studio that leverages architecture to address the issues of mass incarceration. In addition, MASS’s Founding Principal and Executive Director, Michael Murphy, will deliver a public lecture, and this summer, the firm will host architecture students on an international internship.

“Through its dual location in Boston and Kigali, as well as through intentionally inclusive hiring and mentoring practices, MASS has built a multiracial, multinational talent consortium,” said Dean Jonathan Massey. “It has done all these things at increasing scale, breaking out of the intimacy and local impact that typify community design centers and other mission-driven practices. MASS is truly a Model of Architecture Serving Society.”

As a mission-driven nonprofit organization, MASS has created an Impact-based Design Methodology of practice optimized to deliver maximum outcomes to their partners and the communities they serve. Students will use the MASS design model throughout their coursework to research, build, and advocate for architecture that promotes justice and human dignity.

The winter design studio, led by Murphy, focuses on architecture’s ability to change the impact and outcomes of mass incarceration, which affects 2.3 million people in the U.S. (Prison Policy Initiative 2018). The more than 1,800 state and federal prisons in the U.S. form an architectural landscape that is rarely discussed or studied.

Students will study facilities and programs that rehabilitate and reintegrate incarcerated people, as well as spaces designed for restoration or reflection. Research will explore themes that include mass incarceration; confinement conditions; prison programming; and abolition. Students will engage in a participatory design process with wardens, staff, and residents at the Queensboro Correctional Facility Long Island City, NY, where they will develop a user-informed intervention. Jeffrey Mansfield, design director at MASS, is assisting with the studio.

“The exposure to mission-focused design methodology will prepare studio participants for practice,” said Sharon Haar, chair of the architecture program. “To really understand architecture’s role in our complex society, students need to step outside of the academic studio and outside of their comfort zones. Architecture has the ability to change outcomes and human experiences.”

Murphy will also lecture at the college this semester on work related to the studio and the travel internship opportunity.

To inaugurate the Longo Global Internship program, Taubman College partnered with MASS to create two internships for architecture students in the firm’s Kigali office this summer. The new fund will provide resources for Taubman students pursuing professional degrees in architecture to gain practical training with firms around the world.

The internship program was made possible in part through a generous gift to create an endowed fund at Taubman College, which has since been strengthened with a significant bequest to establish the Longo International Architecture Internship Fund. The gift was announced at the November 2, 2018, celebration to conclude the Victors for Michigan campaign, which has been the most successful campaign in the University of Michigan’s history.